Imagine that you are a teacher and standing in front of a class full of students who all belong to different L1 groups. How would you even instruct them in the class and how would you design your lesson plan?
The paper by Christa and Liane published in THE READING TEACHER discusses how dramatization can help in teaching English better to a non-native English learner. Specifically citing San Diego public schools, where a Teacher Artist Project (TAP) has been employed in 30 public schools and listing the effects of the programme on language learning and on boosting the oral language skills, the paper highlights how ‘physicalization of language’ can ensure better retention and comprehension. Similar practices can be employed for ensuring better comprehension and retention of other language development as well.
The pivotal role of importance of oral practice to language development has already been established. These developmental components include: semantic knowledge (vocabulary), syntactic knowledge (structural and grammatical rules), conceptual knowledge (topic understanding), and narrative discourse (story construction and/or recall) which result from both mechanical as well as cognitive retention and development. Along with that, the oral practice serves an additional social dimension by helping in promotion of communication.
Teaching Artist Project (TAP) is a 2-year long arts and literacy program that has been implemented in 30 public schools that serve neighbourhoods with large populations of ELs (English Learners) in San Diego. TAP integrates ELD (English Language Development) concepts with drama and dance through weekly collaborations between teaching artists and classroom teachers. In TAP, the teacher gets to co-teach with teaching artists in their own classrooms. They prepare 50-minute lessons consisting of arts activities designed to meet both the Visual and Performing Arts and the ELD standards focusing on various skills of language learning. In the second year, the San Diego teachers implement the lessons on their own, with support from district resource teachers.
The impact of TAP on the early literacy skills of English learners was studied through standardized tests, interviews and focus groups. TAP showed a significant positive impact on the oral language skills of ELs, especially at the kindergarten level. This is noteworthy, considering the consensus among researchers on the strong connection between early oral language abilities and future literacy. When early elementary teachers integrate arts lessons that emphasize oral language, children build an enhanced foundation for literacy.
TAP can help overcome limitations of the instruction based teaching system. In a teacher-led classroom, often confident talkers answer the questions posed by the teacher, whereas students who are not comfortable, or perhaps do not have the language skills to comprehend or respond, remain silent. This limited interaction can handicap learners who do not have the tools to participate. Including arts activities is one way to encourage student participation.
Even if the students do not initially comprehend all of the words, they can understand the plot and the feelings of the characters in a story through dramatization. By imaginatively touching, seeing, and experiencing the significance of the words in the text, children inject themselves into the situation described by the author and grasp the meaning of events in human terms. This allows each child to go beyond the limitations of his or her English language vocabulary and engage with literature on the child’s actual developmental level.
The paper also lists certain important points to keep in mind for successful TAP implementation:
– Teacher Collaboration and Ownership
Regular interactions between teachers, swapping of materials that was showing higher success at class level, internal discussions on strategies was found essential for boosting creativity as well as ensuring a better reach out.
– Fidelity of Implementation
The teachers stayed committed to implementation of the TAP programme. The results may not be immediate. But working with teaching artists and discussing it regularly will show the results. Teachers also noticed that some lessons were remembered by students even when they were forgotten by the teachers.
– Curriculum Integration
The TAP lessons were designed to have applications in other subject areas. At both schools, teachers found themselves frequently using TAP concepts and tools throughout the curriculum. Teachers used pantomime techniques for vocabulary study, dance (counting of beats) for math, tableau and improvisation with reading aloud, and warm-up techniques throughout the day to get the students’ attention or restore classroom order when needed.
– Integrating Drama and Creative Movement
Improvising scenes or simulating actions through dramatization and creative movement enables children to tap into their own experiences. By using their voices to dramatize the characters’ words and actions—or their bodies to create settings or moods—students learn to connect the decontextualized text used in the classroom to their experiences outside of school.
Arts-based lessons provide visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic input that, when combined, powerfully signals the importance of the new information, helping it to become integrated with existing knowledge. Such learning helps students to organize, rehearse, and recall material that they have encountered in other lessons (but which has not yet made its way out of working memory) and transfer it into long-term memory.
By Gayatri Vaidya: Snr Educational Specialist
(Member of Large Scale Assessment Team)
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